Saturday, 13 August 2011

David Starkey has no idea what he is talking about, and no one should pay him any heed

*Ahem* Apologies for lack of bloggery, there were some... things I had to take care of.

Actually I thought about blogging about the riots down south (Newcastle has been spared for now), but I found the whole thing very depressing. Not just the riots themselves, the the witless bellends who went on the telly to blame the cuts and the Poles, as if it was a legitimate protest and not just a glorified mass-mugging; but also the revelation that virtually everyone else in the country is a closet Mail-reader who wanted to cut benefits to some of the worst off in society, bring back national service, give the police licence to unmask anyone they deem a threat and disrupt social networks, the general kind of illiberal shittery we condemn in Middle Eastern despots.

In the end I had to give up, since my feelings have been better articulated by others. and I've actually summed up much of my feelings in one paragraph anyway. But since renowned Tudorphile David Starkey has decided to stick his ill-suited oar into the dirtied waters of debate surrounding the riots, I feel obligated to respond: I wouldn't put up with this shit from Ferguson: why should Starkey be any different?

I'm not going to spend much time dignifying Starkey's ridiculous comments by disputing them: it should be manifestly obvious to all concerned that his views are simplistic and ill-informed at best. Deliberately invoking Enoch Powell was so patently daft that it makes me wonder if Starkey is deliberately goading outrage: why else would he bring up a name so loved by the far-right, so indelibly linked with hatred and tolerance, and yet so thoroughly discredited for painting an outlandish and, as it turns out, completely inaccurate vision of the future?

I think what he meant to say, albeit in as foolish and offensive a manner possible, was that youth culture 1. has been heavily influenced by Afro-Caribbean strands and 2. glorified violence, both of which are fair (though debatable) statements in their own right. But he also went further by implying causation, that it is the influence of black culture that has inspired the glorification of violence- in effect, that black culture is inherently violent. This is a dull and tedious stereotype that I've no doubt that a man in his sixties of conservative persuasion has no difficulty believing. Suffice to say that I suspect Dr Starkey has had basically zero interaction with black (or indeed urban culture) besides what he sees through the distorted lens of the conservative press: an endless tirade of dark-skinned rappa-gangsters showing off bullet wounds, singing stuffy old songs about the buttocks and generally posing in warehouses, boasting like Celtic chieftains about how very dangerous they are. Starkey is working on a logical fallacy, that "black" equals "urban", and that "urban" equals "violent". It's an easy trap to fall into, and one that requires absolutely zero critical thinking: even a little bit of thought would have revealed to Starkey 1. that so-called "black culture" is not homogeneous, and that it includes such luminaries as Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Benjamin Sisko and 2. that the pastiche of urban thuggery Starkey has bought wholesale is a construct not only of Fideo Cent and Snoopy Dog, but of their non-black contemporaries like Eminem, Dappy and, um, Vanilla Ice, in addition to a dozen other sources that are wholly unrelated to black culture, like the cro-magnon exploits of footballers, the tabloid obsession with train-wreck celebrities and easy access to cheap alcohol brewed by the black monks. Yet Starkey seems in no hurry to suggest that the Rule of St Benedict is responsible for the London riots.

The problem with David Starkey as it was with Ferguson, is raging egomania. Good historians don't make television as good as bad historians do, because they have to accept that their views are subjective and fallible, whereas bad historians can arm themselves with the indefatigable, photogenic confidence of someone who knows they are right (but usually isn't). Neither Starkey's PhD nor his appearance on terrestrial television makes him qualified to comment on politics or sociology. The basic logic here seems to be that academic=smart, and that smart=qualified to mouth off on any damn subject under the sun. It's a strange real-life humanities version of the way fictional scientists like Emmet Brown or Tony Stark or Robotnik are masters of every scientific discipline under the sun, no matter how divorced from their core discipline. One would think that if Newsnight needed an actual rent-a-quote racist, they would have an actual sociologist on standby without resorting to someone who's primary interest is in the sex life of a fat men centuries dead.

The fact that David Starkey is a racist doesn't surprise me, really: the man has already shown himself to be a hateful sexist when he argued that history was being ruined by women turning it into a giant soap opera that focused unduly on Henry VIII's love life, a statement that is not only manifestly untrue and profoundly unhelpful (since any approach to history that comes from sources other than middle-aged white dudes like Starkey and my self is valuable and welcomed), but is also a tad hypocritical: a man who's entire career has revolved around Henry VIII, who has published numerous books and TV series about Henry VIII (including one that was even named The Six Wives of Henry VIII) and who was a consultant on renowned sexorama The Tudors cannot turn around and say that someone else is obsessed with Henry VIII's dick and where he put it.

Women! Know your limits! Look what you've turned history into!

If the sexism seems irrelevant at this moment, it isn't: the point I'm trying to make is that David Starkey is a hateful little publicity hound who has no idea what he is talking about (unless it's about Anne Boleyn's favourite position), and that we should all just ignore him. These are dangerous times: community tensions run high, and the public mood is the ugliest I have ever seen it in years. Already Starkey's unhelpful comments have been taken as a rallying cry for Stormfront, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the EDL used his comments as intellectual ammunition if they ever learn how to read. The last thing we need is for someone intelligent and knowledgeable to give the racists credibility. Let's not pretend that David Starkey is that person.

Edit: inevitable as the tides, some fools have come out to suggest that Starkey is correct and totally not racist, and absolutely did not say that black culture is violent and thuggish even though that's exactly what he said. There's an article on Five Chinese Crackers refuting it with far more aplomb than I could manage. There's also a brilliant analysis by Nathaniel Tapley outlining Starkey's failures as a talking head.


  1. Parson's Nose13 August 2011 at 23:35

    That picture of "Our 'Enry" (apologies to a genuinely decent man of the same name)looks like a still from a gangsta rap or porno rap video anyway - what has Starkers inflicted on us?

  2. Heddy 8: Get Pregnant Or (You) Die Tryin'?

  3. Wonderful. I think he was being deliberately inflammatory to be honest. He has styled himself as "the rudest man in Britain" and is trying to keep his reputation up. I think he may finally have gone too far.

    Scurve - love it!

  4. Wait, Starkey's an advisor on The Tudors? Then how in the hell does he get off calling it inaccurate rubbish?